October 28, 2013

Or "Speak Before You Think "

What Do I Mean By Equivocation

Equivocation is a kind of logical fallacy where two definitions of a word are used within an argument, and the conclusion is based off of confusing one definition for the other. For instance,
Socrates is a man
Man covers the globe.
Therefore Socrates covers the globe. 
In the first premise, 'man' means male, but in the second premise 'man' means humanity. By assuming the two words mean the same thing, you come to an illogical conclusion and one that in this case if obviously false.

Now, perhaps a more relevant example:
Nothing comes from nothing
But in quantum mechanics, elementary particles can pop into existence from nothing.
Therefore premise one is false.
However, the word 'nothing' in premise one refers to literal nothingness, as in non-being. However, in premise two the word 'nothing' refers to a quantum vacuum, which is a repository of energetic fields, not literal nothingness. Therefore the word 'nothing is being equivocated.

Equivocation is generally a kind of mistake. Unlike most of what I talk about in these discussions on rhetoric, we are not discussing a rhetorical style as much as a tendency that I've noticed within the rhetoric. No one equivocates intentionally, and it is generally a result of sloppy writing, miscommunication between disciplines, or simple ignorance.

Apart from the example given above, most of the equivocation that I see coming from atheists is generally based on theological terms. There seems to be a disinterest in trying to understand where the theist is actually coming from. While I understand that it is inappropriate for me to expect the average atheist to understand theological language, once that atheist attempts to become a critic of religion and theology, he then has the responsibility of knowing he's talking about. But the New Atheists seem to disagree. Theology, just like any discipline, has its jargon, and one cannot assume to understand what philosophers and theologians mean by terms like "omnipotence" or "faith" because you heard the terms the last time you were in Sunday School when you were 12. There have been centuries of discussion about these ideas, and many of them have been refined over the ages. It is every one's duty to interact with the best that a position has to offer (or, like I am doing here, admit you are dealing with only a sect).

Equivocation In Action


The examples that I have chosen are the ones that I feel are the most problematic in terms of  how atheists understand what they are dealing with. In this regard, their misunderstanding of what 'religion' means is quite important. When pushed, most atheists would define religion by a belief in a higher power or God. However, most Atheists would recognize Buddhism as a religion, even though classic Buddhism doesn't believe in God, and they would also recognize Deism as not being a religion but rather a philosophy. Sometimes, they would criticize religion as the belief in God, and other times they will emphasize that the problem with religion is the belief in a God who answers prayers, which is more of an recognition of 'religion' meaning something deeper. So what exactly is a religion?

A better definition of religion is an organized system of thought that incorporates a worldview and daily practices, especially ritual. Recognizing that atheism is actually a worldview, and not simply disbelief, some theists have referred to Atheism itself as a religion. This is actually untrue, seeing how there are no rituals connected to Atheism. Atheism is more of a philosophy. But the atheist is quite right is noticing that most religions tend to believe in gods, and belief in gods generally leads to religion. However, religious tenancy and actually religion aren't really the same thing.

But that said, Atheism isn't the antithesis of religion for religion isn't simply the belief in God. Atheism itself is a full and positively asserted worldview just like the philosophy of Christianity or any other religion, and an atheist cannot define religion in terms of that ritual in some arguments, and yet restrict the term 'religion' as a type of worldview other times.


This comes down to one simple argument that Atheists tend to use (though it comes out in a variety of ways). Often times they will say, "well Christians don't believe in the myriad of other gods that others believe in; we simply go one god further." However, inherent within this argument is an equivocation.

The term 'god' in this context is understood in ontological or taxonomical terms. In other words, the term is used to denote the type of being that we are talking about.This is sort of a correct definition since this is how monotheists tend to use the word. However, the God of the Bible is as different from Thor as a human is from an ant. When used across religions in this way, this definition clearly breaks down and ceases to make sense. Thor isn't a god in the same way as Adonai.

When we are dealing with the word in terms of inter-religious studies, it is better to define it in relational terms: a god is a being who is worshipped. A being is innately a god, would be a being is worthy of worship due to its innate nature (which would certainly apply to Adonai).

Thus in this argument, and its variants, the Atheist is equivocating the philosophical definition of 'God' with the inter-religious definition of 'god', resulting in a confused argument. There are other problems with the above argument, but those do not apply to the topic of this post.

The End Result

There isn't so much a result of equivocation as much as equivocation is a result. It is fundamentally what happens when someone doesn't bother to learn the position that they are criticizing. This is overall a good lesson for us Christians as well, because often we use arguments grounded in ignorance or misunderstanding as well. We cannot assume our position when talking to someone who isn't familiar with it. We need to speak truth in their language as much as we can, which means learning that language.

In terms of when atheists use such arguments, it is really our advantage. Ignorant arguments only convince the ignorant. We need to recognize how they are misconstruing things, correct them, and then challenge them on their ignorance. Simple correction isn't sufficient because if they are ignorant of this, then it is likely they are ignorant of other things.

And don't simply say, "Have you even read the Bible?", but it isn't reading that is important but understanding it. There are a plethora of people out there, both who claim to be Christian and those who don't, who have read the Bible from cover to cover. It is more important to encourage them to be inquisitive, to talk to experts, and to read commentaries and scholars if they are truly interested in engaging Christianity. Remember, it isn't argument that changes a person's mind. Arguments are designed to give someone the intellectual permission to consider Christianity, but it is ultimately the Spirit who convinces someone.

October 17, 2013

One Year

One year ago yesterday, my second son Justin was born. 10 days later on October 27th he died.* He is now buried in a family plot in my wife's hometown. We just came home today, and I am rather emotionally dead. Not tired, but I just am not feeling much right now.

That said, I've been thinking about the nature of pain and suffering in the life of a Christian. Many people have been impressed with how Esther and I have dealt with Justin's passing. Our story regarding Justin has encouraged and even helped many people who surround us. I don't think that this is why Justin died, for all death and tragedy is first and foremost tied to the fallen nature of the world, but I am happy that God has been able to use Justin's brief life for His glory, and for helping others.

I do not understand those who find solace in the notion that when bad things happen to them, that it was designed by God. Sure, knowing that something going on may have a good reason behind it may make me feel better when I don't get the job I want, or  maybe even if I get in a car crash. But when it comes to my newborn son dying? Not really. We have to remember that according to Scripture there are things which happen which God didn't want to have happen. The hope we have in Christ and security that we find in Christ are grounded both in the sense that He will help us in this life, but more in that in the end He wins.

In the end, I am comforted by knowing that I will see him again. He is OK. He might be disconnected from his body, but that is only temporary. That may not stop me from being sad, but I would probably be distraught without such assurance.

I remember an atheist who once commented that Christians don't really believe in what we say we do, because we are still sad when someone dies. Because, you know, no one cries when someone moves away. Not really the best example of reasoning. But I think it also underestimates the weight of empty arms. When you expect to be holding an infant, and there is no infant to hold, your arms... ache. It is not just about life vs. death, but the is vs. the ought. Sorrow, anger, etc... they come when the is and the ought don't line up. And though Justin is fine, it is still not the way things ought to be.

But one day, one day, the is will be the same as the ought, and on that day, we'll see Justin, and get to find out what his life has been like.

*Don't chide me about the math. It was 10 days.

October 7, 2013

You Always Liked Mom Best*

It is wonderful having a son. I love being a father. And what is really precious are those moments when you recognize that he's figured something out for the first time. Watching his mind really work, and seeing him learn is absolutely amazing. Not to mention the times where we just wrestle on the bed, and I throw him really high when his mom isn't looking.

However, you know what isn't fun? When he only wants his mom. And I don't mean when he is playing with his mother and he doesn't want me to interrupt. I get that. I mean when he wants absolutely nothing to do with me. It is as if the fact that I am not his mother is an affront to all things good and decent in the world.

Now this wasn't exactly surprising. I was often told that younger children tend to prefer their mother. What is more surprising is how heartbreaking it can actually be! It is my own emotional reaction to being rejected by my son that really shocks me. It is especially because I know how artificial his preference is at the moment.

No, I'm not really planning on making some theological point out of all of this. I'm really just venting. Fortunately, my wife is excellent at not simply submitting to my son's demands. At the end of the day though, it often balances out, and we often have great fun.

* Anyone who catches the Smothers Brothers reference gets 20 internet points.